Best of 2014

I read, watched, and listened to some pretty great things in 2014. These are my favorites:

Favorite Reads:

Fiction:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Memoir:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Young Adult:
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Best Audiobook:
Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Best Short Stories:
Bark by Lorrie Moore and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Best Graphic Novel:
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe By Yumi Sakugawa

Best Poetry Collection:
I Don’t Know Do You By Roberto Montes

I made a goal to read 75 books this year and surpassed it (by four books, but still; woot!) I’m debating whether I should challenge myself to at all in 2015. While making a specific goal and keeping track of whether I’m behind schedule definitely keeps me motivated, I do sort of agree with articles like this one, which argues that always keeping track of how many books you’ve already read is nerve wracking and is not really what reading should be about. I made a personal goal to post here four times a week, which seemed completely manageable for the first half of the year. There are so many great books I read this year that I keep meaning to write about here, but just haven’t found the time, and that’s a frustrating feeling.


Thanks to the success of Serial, many have dubbed 2014 “the year of the podcast.” Even Dear Sugar got in on the action! I’ve started listening to so many this year, some new, some just new to me. But I’ll try to keep this list reasonably short.

Favorite Podcasts:

Serial

This American Life

Gilmore Guys

The Scot and the Sassenach

Totally Laime (which is unfortunately ending soon)

BookRiot

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Not Too Deep with Grace Helbig

How Did This Get Made?

Dear Sugar Radio


I’m a huge fan of guilty pleasure television, especially when it comes to Reality TV. I know, I know, but I just can’t stop myself.

Favorite TV

Outlander

Orange is the New Black

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The Affair

Hart of Dixie

How to Get Away With Murder

New Girl

Pretty Little Liars

The Chair

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County

True Tori

Shark Tank


Finally, I watched some really fantastic films this year. These were my favorites:

Favorite Movies

Short Term 12

Chef

Snowpiercer

The Fault in our Stars

Veronica Mars

Mockingjay

Gone Girl

Divergent

Wild


You were a good year, 2014.

Happy New Year!

Movie Review: Short Term 12

Short Term 12 is a film about an halfway house for troubled teens and the workers who care for them. The main protagonist is Grace, who manages day-to-day life at the facility.  At the beginning of the film, she tells a newly hired supervisor that their job is not to be a surrogate parent or friend, but to make sure that they provide a safe environment. But we see that Grace is something of a surrogate parent, friend and adviser to these kids. She can’t help it. And she’s damn good at it. We slowly learn that a big part of why she cares so much about these kids is because of her own painful history, and we realize the sad irony is that she’s so good at caring for them but pretty bad at taking care of herself and her own issues.

Grace has a boyfriend who also works at Short Term 12 and loves her unconditionally. (At one point she asks him why he is so nice to her and he tells her, “Well, it’s easy. It’s because you are the weirdest, most beautiful person that I’ve ever met in my whole entire life.” Swoon!) But he has a hard time understanding her demons and why she can’t take her own advice that she gives to the kids every day. Grace, along with other characters in the film, show us that love, both the giving and receiving of it, is not what we often think of it as. Love is something we learn, something we must practice, and love can be hard work. Self-love can be the hardest work there is. And when the people who are supposed to love you the most without question let you down or hurt you, you’re already starting from behind.

To miss the fundamental love that a child should be able to expect can sometimes mean never understanding what love really is; what it can do and how it can heal. Providing a safe environment for these kids doesn’t just mean ensuring that their basic needs for survival are met and that they can’t physically harm themselves or each other. The underlying service that Grace and the other workers provide is the kind of nurturing love that these kids have been missing.

We see this lesson in the story of Marcus, who is about to turn 18 and therefore must leave Short Term 12. He’s melancholy and apprehensive about it, and the rap he performs in the video below displays the pain he feels toward his mother and the residual affects of “living a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.”

And it’s shown again when the troubled Jayden, who reminds Grace of herself, tells a children’s story she created about an octopus and a shark that is basically a much darker telling of The Giving Tree. 

So many parts of this movie were devastatingly sad, yet it managed to keep from veering off into a depressing viewing experience. Which is pretty impressive if you consider the subject matter.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. I think it might easily be the best movie I watch this year. It’s currently available on Netflix instant.

Movie Review: Chef

I listened to Jon Favreau on the Nerdist podcast a few weeks ago, and the interview had me eager to check out his new film, Chef. If you’re familiar with his background (or would like to see a summary), you probably know that Jon Favreau has been all over the map in regard to genre, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Chef, especially because of the all-star cast. It turned out to be a little bit of everything.

Chef is the story of a former wunderkind chef, Carl Casper (played by Favreau) who is unhappily working at someone else’s restaurant. He feels creatively stifled, which is only exacerbated when a popular food blogger lambastes the menu that Carl didn’t even want to cook in the first place, lamenting what was once a promising and original chef. It’s the straw that breaks the camels’ back for Carl, who takes the critique personally and (without meaning to do so publicly) lashes out at the blogger over Twitter. The subsequent feud quickly spirals out of control and leaves Carl jobless, which leads to a phoenix-like rebirth of his passion for cooking as he opens his own food truck and reconnects with his son and ex-wife. The plot moves quickly, the characters are drawn-out, and the film is both moving and funny. I recommend checking it out, though you could probably wait until it’s available on DVD or On Demand.